Lost heath hen, or rather, a facsimile, is back

Riding in the State Forest with a friend last weekend, West Tisbury town clerk Tara Whiting was startled when she and her companion came across what she described as a “ginormous” statue of a heath hen, a bird similar to a prairie chicken.

The horses skittered but were persuaded with some difficulty to pass by the installation, a larger-than-life representation cast in bronze and sitting on a concrete pad.

John Varkonda, superintendent of the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest, solved the mystery. Mr. Varkonda reassured The Times that the sculpture is not the work of a rogue guerilla artist, but actually belongs there. It is the work of sculptor Todd McGrain, part of a series of sculptures titled “The Lost Birds,” all larger than life, and each depicting a bird that has become extinct.

Other installations depict the Caroline parakeet, the great auk, the passenger pigeon, and the Labrador duck.

It took Mr. McGrain, an associate professor of art at Cornell University, two years to get permission from the Commonwealth to install his bronze heath hen in the State Forest. It is an appropriate venue, because the forest was set aside in 1908, to try to save the last population of the heath hen, which was sinking toward extinction long before the phrase “endangered species” was prevalent. The last heath hen expired there in 1933 and was declared extinct.

Mr. Varkonda told The Times that the sculpture was installed last week, at the artist’s expense, but there will not be an official dedication until spring, when more favorable weather might be expected.

In the meantime art lovers will find the statue a five- or ten-minute walk into the forest from Gate 18 or Gate 19 on the West Tisbury-Edgartown Road.